Roast the perfect Christmas turkey with tips for how to baste the meat in the traditional way and advice on brining it to keep the meat moist.
What does it mean to baste a turkey?
Basting means spooning, squirting or brushing the juices that are in the roasting tin back over the meat as it cooks, or laying something over it that will release fat as it cooks. A self-basting turkey (that you see in supermarkets) will have been injected with a salt and flavour solution, so the meat will be much wetter as it cooks but it won’t necessarily be more flavoursome.
What does basting do?
Older recipes often advise basting a turkey regularly to keep the meat moist. Actually, basting so much is not guaranteed to stop your turkey drying out, especially if you leave the meat in the oven too long. (It's important to follow pack instructions and calculate the right cooking time.) Also, any flavour from butter, bacon rashers or herbs will remain on the skin rather than permeate the meat, which is fine if you have a flavourful stuffing, but water content in the bacon or butter means the skin won't crisp up. Turkeys that have been basted too often usually end up with a slightly streaky-looking, soft skin.
How do I ensure a juicy turkey with crisp skin?
You should dry-brine it, which essentially means salting it heavily and leaving the salt to do its work overnight. The salt will draw the moisture out of the turkey and then it will be reabsorbed, taking some salt flavour with it, and it will also dry out the skin which helps it crisp up in the oven. Secondly, you can cook the crown and legs separately so that each cut is properly cooked through in the way that most suits it. Try this brined roast turkey & crown confit legs for turkey perfection.
How to baste a turkey
Use a turkey baster (a long tube with a suction bulb on the end) which is long enough to reach safely into the hot roasting tin and suck out any juices from it. If you don't have one already, you could also invest in a long-handled spoon to do the same job (look in catering supply shops for cheaper versions) that you’ll find much more useful year-round.
You can also baste by laying strips of bacon or pancetta – or a piece of muslin dipped in butter – across the breast of your turkey while it roasts. But do take these off for the last part of the cooking in order to brown the skin. Pushing a flavoured butter under the skin before you roast the turkey is also a popular technique. Bear in mind, though, that butter contains water, so if you do want crispier skin, you must use clarified butter.
3 easy ways to baste a turkey
1. Bacon baste
Finely chop 6 rashers of smoked streaky bacon or pancetta in a dry pan from cold until they release their oil and crisp up. Cool and put in a food processor with 140g softened butter and 1 tbsp maple syrup. Shape the butter into a log and chill. Push slices under the turkey skin before roasting.
2. Lemon & herb baste
Mix 100g softened butter with the grated zest of 1 lemon, 1 tbsp chopped thyme, 2 tbsp chopped parsley and 1 finely chopped garlic clove. Loosen the skin on the turkey breast with your fingers and push the butter under, covering the breast.
3. Red wine baste
Line your roasting tin with a very large sheet of foil and put the turkey on top. Smear 85g butter over the breast and grate over ½ nutmeg, then season well. Cover the breast with 10 rashers of streaky bacon and then pour over 1 glass red wine. Bring the sides of the foil up to make a parcel.
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